Skip to main content

Let the monsters kill each other.

Game of Thrones
Season Seven

(SPOILERS) Column inches devoted to Game of Thrones, even in “respectable” publications, seems to increase exponentially with each new season, so may well reach critical mass with the final run. Groundswells of opinion duly become more evident, and as happens with many a show by somewhere around this point, if not a couple of years prior, Season Seven has seen many of the faithful turn on once hallowed storytelling, and at least in part, there’s good reason for that.


Some suggest the show has jumped the shark (or crashed the Wall); there were concerns over how much the pace increased last year, divested as it was of George RR Martin’s novels as a direct source, but this year’s succession of events make Six seem positively sluggish. I don’t think GoT has suddenly, resoundingly, lost it, and I’d argue there did need to be an increase in momentum (people are quick to forget how much moaning went on about seemingly nothing happening for long stretches of previous seasons), but there has definitely been a fallout from losing the guiderail of the books; characterisation and incident have become increasingly cursory, at times resembling a shopping list of scenes and encounters that need ticking off, and with that comes a problem the series hasn’t faced before: an unwillingness to suspend disbelief.


This season, people seem to get around the map in no time at all; the once vast and unknowable lands now seem so much smaller and less challenging. Much-anticipated encounters occur without any the expected impact. In some cases, this has been a positive (the various Starks): in others, underwhelming (neither Jon nor Daenerys are portrayed by strong enough actors to achieve much in the way of a spark during one-on-one in scenes, making their carnal attraction distinctly devoid of chemistry and thus leaving only the promise of incest to titillate). In yet others, it all becomes a bit silly, such as 7.6: Beyond the Wall’s travelogue where each character is duly given a “Now it’s my turn” chance to interact with another; the results entirely lack finesse.


Beyond the Wall has been the big sticking point, the one where the confluence of unlikely/ unbelievable events just became a bit too much. Daenerys miraculously flying to the rescue in time on her dragon, Jon arbitrarily acting a tool just to create the conditions for death (a dragon) and rescue (Uncle Benjen). Added to which, Daenerys was convinced remarkably easily that the scheme to capture a wight had merit. I didn’t particularly have a problem with the question of what the Night King would have done if he hadn’t laid his lily-white hands on a dragon (well, it would just have taken a bit longer, wouldn’t it?) but I did find the Benjen-ex machina irritating in the extreme. Bad enough that they did that, worse still that they pulled the old “Ride away while I fend the wights off for absolutely no good reason other than the writers wouldn’t know what to do with me if I stayed”. As for the “Kill the White Walker and his creations all die”, well, I guess if it was good enough for George Lucas in The Phantom Menace


I don’t have many complaints about the contrivance of the Sansa-Anya plot. I mean, that’s the way these devices work. It’s not as if there wasn’t/isn’t a genuine undercurrent and tension between the sisters. And it was just plain satisfying to see Littlefinger finally bow out/bleed out. Part of the problem of his exit, though, is that it further contributes to tapestry becoming so much more streamlined in a show built on intrigue and suspect loyalties. The only real tension in that respect has come from Cersei, and as such, The Dragon and the Wolf’s double-crossing (leading to Jaime riding out) was much needed, as was the more subdued pace in the first half of the episode (it felt as if the show knew how to breathe deeply again).


There are still question marks, such as the ramifications of the revelation regarding Jon, as and when its revealed to all – the scene between Samwell and Bran is another example of chronically indelicate exposition. Samwell rolls up, leaving the Citadel mainly because the plot requires it, and the first person he sees is Bran, leading to a highly deductive conversation. When things seem to unfold too effortlessly, it’s a sure sign the writers are no longer building stories but attempting to juggle the elements so as to make it to the finish line – but mostly what remains feels like a case of how and when rather than nursing the element of surprise.


Sometimes, the now rudimentary writing David Benioff and DB Weiss works to the show’s favour; Euron bolting it because he’s scared shitless immediately seemed like yet another dose of poor characterisation as a means to an end, so to find it was a ruse was at least gratifying. In contrast, the scene of Theon’s miraculous cocklessness seeing him to victory/redemption in a fight on the beach at Dragonstone with someone twice as fierce and twice his size was never less than ridiculous, and one of the weaker instances of plotting/writing/motivation the show has seen. The season has had a few of those, though, including Jon calling Daenerys “Dani” for no explicable reason whatsoever and Brienne exclaiming “Fuck loyalty” because everything she held to be sacrosanct has apparently been shattered at the sight of the undead.


Before Jon and Daenerys got it on, there seemed to be moves in terms of the latter’s budding despotism to suggest she might not be all that (despite being the great white saviour of previous seasons), and it will be a shame if that’s cast aside. About the only interesting aspect of the character is her hubristic assumption of rectitude (the silliness of accusing Jon of pride in not swearing fealty when she is nursing the same sin only goes unnoticed because Snow is a bit thick, like). The consequence of this plotline is that both Tyrion and Varys, formerly two of the show’s best characters, are now reduced to table leavings (the latter has a strong scene in which Daenerys questions his loyalty, but that’s basically it).


But GoT rattled along during these seven episodes, and I was never remotely bored (as I very occasionally have been in the past). No, it’s no longer “prestige” TV, it’s become blockbuster cinema on the small screen, with all the problems and insecurities of plotting, internal logic and motivation that brings. The season has had its gems of scenes (Diana Rigg’s death), but the kind of intimate flourishes that yielded tension through dialogue and thespian showmanship are mostly a thing of the past. Or, when they’re not (Cersei, Tyrion), there’s a sense that you’re only seeing the regurgitation of earlier, better-delivered passages on the same theme.


Can Season Eight regain something of the elegance of past form? I have a feeling, if anything, it will only become more linear. Will Game of Thrones end up regarded in a similar fashion to Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The X-Files, where the first four or five seasons are held up as an example of greatness before the rot set in? Perhaps that’s the inevitability of a success story, that the makers begin to become too conscious of what they’ve achieved and are no longer so steady on the tiller. Alternatively, just blame Martin for not pulling his finger out and getting the books finished, the lazy bugger.


(Possible SPOILERS for Season Eight - who knows) Inevitably, there’s much speculation about what will transpire during the final furlong, the most bizarre being that Bran will be revealed as the Night King. I guess it could happen… George RR Martin by way of Damon Lindelof. There was a form of time travel with Hodor, after all. Isaac Hempstead Wright doesn’t seem to think so, though. Jamie killing Cersei seems way too obvious, but then I thought Jon and “Dani” getting together seemed way too obvious. Arya killing Cersei would be predictable too, not least because she’s been going on about it forever. I can certainly see Jon having to sacrifice Daenerys (as the Prince Who Was Promise); there’s no way these two get a happy ending together. Of course, you could reverse those roles (although, Jon dying again?) I can also see the increasingly uncomfortable Tyrion parting ways with his queen (but having him revealed as another Targaryen feels a little too fan service-y). One thing ought to be odds-on, though. Unless the Weiss and Beniof have got cold feet, since that element was definitely in short supply in Seven, lots of cherished people will die.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

I don’t need to be held together, I’m fine just floating through space like Andy.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
Or, to give it its full subtitle, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. Carrey’s in a contradictory place just now, on the one hand espousing his commitment to a spiritual path and enlightened/ing state, on the other being sued in respect of his ex-girlfriend’s suicide and accompanying allegations regarding his behaviour. That behaviour – in a professional context – and his place of consciousness are the focus of Jim & Andy, and an oft-repeated mantra (great for motivational speeches) that “I learned that you can fail at what you don’t love, so you may as well do what you love. There’s really no choice to be made”. The results are consequently necessarily contradictory, but always fascinating.

Nothing in the world can stop me now!

Doctor Who The Underwater Menace: Episode Three

Episode Three is pretty much 25 minutes of filler, revolving around a kidnap attempt on Zaroff and Sean encouraging the fish people to engage in industrial action. But, laughable (intentional or otherwise) as the plot mechanics may be, this is never dull. Smith keeps the action zipping along. She has limited space at her disposal, but ensures the action scenes are tightly shot and well-edited. This means that, even when the staging isn’t especially convincing (the crowded market square, all 30 feet of it, the fight between Jamie and Zaroff), it’s a million times better executed than any comparable studio action set piece from the Davison era that isn’t directed by Graeme Harper.

No, by the sky demon! I say no!

Doctor Who The Pirate Planet
I doubt Pennant Roberts, popular as he undoubtedly was with the cast, was anyone’s idea of a great Doctor Who director. Introduced to the show by Philip Hinchliffe – a rare less-than-sterling move – he made a classic story on paper (The Face of Evil) just pretty good, and proceeded to translate Robert Holmes’ satirical The Sun Makers merely functionally. When he returned to the show during the ‘80s, he was responsible for two entirely notorious productions, in qualitative terms. But The Pirate Planet is the story where his slipshod, rickety, make-do approach actually works… most of the time (look at the surviving footage of Shada, where there are long passages of straight narrative, and it’s evident Roberts wasn’t such a good fit). Douglas Adams script is so packed, both with plot and humour, that its energy is inbuilt; there’s no need to rely on a craftsman to imbue tension or pace. There is a caveat, of course: if your idea of Doctor Who requires a straig…

For a special agent, you're not having a very special day, are you?

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)
(SPOILERS) Guy Ritchie would evidently have liked to make a Bond film as much as his former producer Matthew Vaughn, and either would undoubtedly add more spark to the franchise than current darling Sam Mendes (lush cinematography or no lush cinematography). While Vaughn brokered his fandom into a patchy but violent and vibrant original earlier this year (Kingsman: The Secret Service) and won considerable box office as a result, Ritchie picked up Steven Soderbergh’s discarded menu items and went with refashioning an existing property, one he had no yearning interest in. Sometimes that shows in the result, but mostly The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is a breezy, playful exercise in period spyfare. As such, it’s a shame this looks destined to remain a one-time only outing.

Which isn’t to say there’s necessarily much else left to do with it (one can imagine desperate approaches like throwing them into the ‘70s a la Austin Powers and X-Men), but the amount of fun Ritchi…

You can’t be in England and not know the test score!

The Lady Vanishes (1938)
(SPOILERS) Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate UK-based picture, The Lady Vanishes can be comfortably paired with The 39 Steps as a co-progenitor of his larkier suspense formula (watch these two and then jump to North by Northwest and the through line is immediately obvious). Part of its great blessing is Hitchcock being handed a screenplay by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, latterly directors themselves, and knowing to make the most of the very funny dialogue, including arguably the picture’s greatest gift (well, other than Hitch himself): Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as ultimate English cricket enthusiasts – to the exclusion of all else – Charters and Caldicott.

This place sure isn’t like that one in Austria.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Brawl in Cell Block 99 is most definitely cut from the same cloth as writer-director-co-composer Craig S Zahler’s previous flick Bone Tomahawk: an inexorable, slow-burn suspenser that works equally well as a character drama. That is, when it isn’t revelling in sporadic bursts of ultraviolence, including a finale in a close-quartered pit of hell. If there’s nothing quite as repellent as that scene in Bone Tomahawk, it’s never less than evident that this self-professedchild of Fangoria” loves his grue. He also appears to have a predilection for, to use his own phraseology, less politically correct content.

This is how we do action in Uganda.

Who Killed Captain Alex? (2010)
Uganda’s first action movie”, Who Killed Captain Alex? is a cheerfully ultra-low budget, wholly amateur picture made by Nabwana Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey. It’s the kind of thing you and your mates would make and (rightly) expect no one else to ever watch (aside from a few hundred hits on YouTube). But stick a frequently hilarious running commentary over the top from VJ (video joker) Emme, and it this home-ish move takes on something approaching the spoofy quality of What’s Up Tiger Lilly?